NEGOTIATIONS have begun on the possible renewal of the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement (SPARTECA) Textile, Clothing and Footwear (TCF) scheme.
Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade met with the Australian delegation led by Jeremy Bruer, assistant secretary- PNG and Fiji Branch from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Kirsty McNeil, acting deputy head of mission, Australian High Commission Suva; Steve Clarke, Supervisor Valuation and Origin Section, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service; Robert Fairley, TCF Policy Group, Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) and Peter Lothian, the desk Officer, Fiji Section, DFAT, were part of the Australian Delegation.
A statement from the Foreign Affairs ministry said the Australian delegration was on a fact finding mission to gather further information in relation to the review of the SPARTECA TCF-Scheme between Fiji and Australia.
Fiji was represented by the deputy secretary (Economics & Trade), Shaheen Ali, Sovaia Marawa, Director Trade, Sangita Devi, chief economist from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Amalani Kuruvakadua, principal assistant secretary (Economics) and Radika Kumar both of the Trade and Industry ministry.
Mr Ali informed the visitors of Fiji's appreciation for the market access provided under the scheme which was to a large extent sustaining Fiji's garment industry.
"Although in decline, the TCF Sector was of vital importance in alleviating poverty and engendering social equality in Fiji, given that 90 per cent of the employees in the industry were women and in most cases the sole breadwinners. The industry currently employs 2500 workers but indirectly impacts on approximately 16000 people," the statement said.
Mr Ali said that through improvements to the current scheme, there was potential to turn the garment industry around and increase its contribution towards Fiji's GDP and social development.
Improvements were essential as larger garment producing countries from outside the Pacific Region were being granted better market access into Australia through GSP and other trade arrangements.
According to the ministry statement, the Australians were impressed by the level of commitment by Fiji's TCF industry to improve efficiency, production and innovation.
"Nonetheless, there was an acknowledgement that Fiji's TCF sector needed to implement further reforms in order to diversify and improve its competiveness and be sustainable in the long term. Both sides agreed that further improvements could be achieved through continued partnership between Fiji and Australia under the SPARTECA TCF Scheme."
SPARTECA is a non-reciprocal trade agreement between Australia and New Zealand and Forum Island Countries (FICs), one of the objectives of which is to achieve progressively, in favour of FICs, duty free and unrestricted access to the markets of Australia and New Zealand for as wide a range of products as possible.
The S-TCF scheme, which facilitates duty free access to Australia for textiles, clothing and footwear products manufactured in Forum island countries, had been due to expire on December 31 2004, but has now been extended until the end of the year.
In 2009, Australia granted Fiji's TCF industry a reduction in the Minimum Local Area Content from 35 per cent to 25 per cent, thereby lifting the number and type of garments able to be exported duty-free to Australia.